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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006)

I’ve had the Boss From Hell once or twice in my life. Most recently, I had a few bosses at once who could have been molded into one single Boss that would have made for a nightmare of a human being. Luckily, these bosses each had a redeeming quality or two that kept them from being complete monsters. Or perhaps I’m giving them too much credit. Perhaps I’m defending them simply because they didn’t destroy me. That happens. Sometimes you find yourself defending Devils Wearing Prada simply because they let you keep a shred of your own dignity in the face of adversity and humility. What makes them think they own that dignity? Success, narcissism, entitlement and power. Hey, it could have been worse. I could have been working for fashion moguls (a couple of them may as well have been).

That’s the world in which “The Devil Wears Prada” takes place. The film is based on the very popular novel by Lauren Weisberger, in which she loosely based her characters on the staff of Vogue magazine, for whom she worked for one year. Like Andrea Sachs, the main character in the film, played by Anne Hathaway, Weisberger took the job believing it would propel her career in journalism. Just work for the editor for one year and the world is your oyster. Except that Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) is more than the Editor in Chief. She’s the all-knowing, all-seeing Dedicated Follower of Fashion who can make or break any designer with the simple purse of her lips.

Andrea, of course, has zero sense of fashion. She arrives to work each morning looking like a school marm in contrast to those around her who look like they’re auditioning for an episode of “Absolutely Fabulous.” She faces constant ridicule from her acid-tongued co-worker Emily (Emily Blunt) and no-holds-barred, constructive criticism from Nigel (Stanley Tucci). Her live-in boyfriend Nate (Adrian Grenier) tries his best to be supportive, as does her family, but nobody can quite see how such abuse is supposed to land her a dream job in journalism.

But Andrea makes the conscious decision to not let Miranda’s sadistic behavior get the better of her. Instead, she gets a wardrobe make-over and adopts the attitude that all one needs to do is put up with it for one year and see what happens. What happens, of course, is that the job ends up consuming her. She’s sent on impossible errands to retrieve unpublished Harry Potter novels and to fetch lunches that go straight into the garbage can upon arrival. Just how long can one person hold out? Actually, the main thing for Andrea to hold out against is not her tyrannical boss, but against herself becoming “one of them.”

If this film had been directed by, say, Nancy Myers, every actor here would be playing to the back of the room and turning in caricatures instead of characters. Streep knows better and makes Miranda a complex and believable villain, one who seems to have this evil streak running so deeply within her veins that she doesn’t even realize she wasn’t always like this. She seems so far gone from herself that her intimidation is completely believable. Hathaway is also a good choice as Andrea, teetering on the edge of losing herself and becoming an Emily-in-training. Tucci, thankfully, completely tones down what could have been a stereotypical, flamboyant, gay fashion hag. Instead, he plays Nigel as an embittered hanger-on who has waited too long for his big break.

Director David Frankel, who has directed some of the better episodes of “Sex and the City and “Entourage,” doesn’t go for the laughs here. Instead, he and screenwriter Aline Brosch McKenna know that there is enough mileage in the material for the audience to relate to, even if there’s nothing terribly funny about it. The story is about what happens to a person when they become their job. Everything else falls by the wayside and the primary relationship in one’s life becomes that with a boss than one with a romantic suitor or spouse. However, as the movie reinforces this theme repeatedly, it feels a bit too long and has a few too many montage sequences (but at least the music is good).

So,The Devil Wears Prada” may not be a funny movie, but it is a smart one. It sets itself up for many phony pay-offs, but instead inherits the wisdom that people don’t change as radically in real life as movies always want them to. The changes that happen between the main characters are subtle and come from a real place. With this set-up, we expect the inevitable blow out between Miranda and Andrea. We expect Andrea to finally come out and say “You’re evil and you have no idea how to treat people!” And we expect to see these characters end up rotting in the hell they’ve created for themselves. Perhaps they will, but in the real world those same characters will be just as happy there, with or without Andrea. That’s the sad truth. I know. I’ve been there. It’s Hell. The best one can do is rise above it. Just don’t always expect to rise too far.

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